I finally got back up to the local Whole Foods to check out their lower prices after the acquisition by Amazon. When it came to the seafood counter, what they had in stock was a little less shocking than my last visit. Although the Chilean sea bass hovered around $30 a pound, local-caught haddock was on sale for $8.99 a pound and looked great. The fillets were skin-on, which the nice lady behind the counter happily removed from the two pounds I got.
Since Whole Foods has a facility in Gloucester, I could have got the same haddock for about the same price if I stayed in town. I really wanted something more “exotic” like Arctic char or steelhead, but they didn’t have any and was not about the buy the farmed salmon or tilapia. The swordfish and tuna were cut too small to entice me, but the small (scrod) haddock fillets looked fresh and well displayed so when in doubt, stick to what you know best.
After skinning, the two pounds of haddock were made up of two larger and two smaller fillets. As far as grading, they were too thick to be called “snapper” haddock but definitely not the large haddock that I usually use when I bake it. The were very fresh looking, firm and not slimy at all with a clean brine smell. The Whole Foods butcher-style paper they used to wrap it leaves something to be desired though. It’s fish, not a sandwich, and needs something more heavy duty. The wrapping was getting wet and sloppy by the time I got home, even though I had it wrapped and in a cooler.
For dinner I had to come up with something new. With my wife staying clear of most carbs I had to abandon my usual way of baking haddock for something a little different, but still familiar. I have already mentioned one of my grandmother’s haddock recipes on this website, but what about my 95 year old Grandma Demetri?
In her day, Rose (Aiello) Demetri was a world-class, old-school Sicilian cook. I always loved her cooking but learned to appreciate her cooking traditions even more after traveling to Sicily. Like all excellent Italian/Sicilian cooks, she incorporated new ingredients to time tested methods. It’s always about fresh, local ingredients and our ancestors seamlessly replaced traditional ingredients with the abundance of the New World. Unfortunately Grandma doesn’t cook anymore, but the whole family remembers her cooking fondly, including the way she would prepare haddock.
A Livornese style sauce, with capers, onions, olives and tomatoes is very similar to the way my grandma made haddock and swordfish. However she would have the fish topped with home-made breadcrumbs loaded with garlic and parsley. My grandmother would also bake the fish in the oven versus the two skillets you usually need for a Livornese. Not only do I feel my cooking skills are not up to a real “alla Livornese” I also don’t have the skillets or time to pay that close attention with wife and kid both doing homework in the other room. So this is my take on haddock alla Livornese that is baked in a casserole.
The Recipe: BuyingSeafood’s Haddock alla Livornese
- 2lbs Fresh haddock fillets
- 2 Cans whole tomatoes
- 1 Cup pitted green olives, sliced (I used Whole Foods spiced green olives)
- 1 Small jar of capers, drained
- 1/2 Red onion diced
- 5-6 Cloves of garlic chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon zest and fresh parsley (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F. Saute the onion and garlic until just starting to get some color, then add olives and capers until they are very fragrant. Open the canned tomatoes and crush them in your hands before adding them and the juice to the pan. Bring to boil and then let simmer to thicken up, about 5-7 minutes or more if you want it thicker. You can make the sauce ahead of time if you like. You will probably have more sauce than you need but extra sauce will work great with chicken or as a thick vegetarian ragu for pasta.
Season the fish with salt and pepper. Spoon some of the sauce onto the bottom of a large casserole and then layer fish fillets. Top with the sauce and cook in the oven at 400F for about 20-25 minutes, a little longer if the fish is thick. Serve with some chopped fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.
The pure whiteness of the cooked haddock, essentially poached in the rich red sauce, made for a feast for all the senses. The house smelled like a Sicilian-American house should. Add more garlic, red pepper flakes and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and it would taste just like Grandma Demetri’s. I don’t remember her using green olives but it gives it a piquant, almost agrodolce flavor from the sweet tomatoes, salty capers and spiced olives. Because I used olives that were already loaded with herbs and spices, I didn’t need to add any parsely, oregano or basil during the cooking.
I liked it much better than i thought and the sauce will work on any white fish. Usually Livornese needs a firm fish, like snapper or sea bass so it does not flake apart while cooking. My method allows a very flaky fish like haddock to be used and still hold together without needing to flour and pan sear the fish first. I will certainly be using this method to cook more fish in the future. I bet swordfish would be excellent!
Although I’m not about to become a regular Whole Foods shopper, I’m glad to know that it’s worth paying a visit on occasion to check out the fish counter. Maybe next time they will have some Arctic char or another hard to find fish. With these new lower prices, it may be worth the trip.